Saturday, February 24, 2018

Review: Love Letters to the Dead (Dellaira)

I pledged to read 100 books in 2018 with a group of students at school. So far, I'm doing really bad. This is only book #7 for me, which is 8 books behind my goal. At least none of my students will feel bad if they don't reach their goal--they can't possibly be more than 50% behind already. Perhaps I should sneak into my son's room tomorrow and catch up on the latest adventures of Dogman and Big Nate...

So this is Love Letters to the Dead. I've had my eye on it for a long time, so when a student (one of my 100-book challenge students) recommended it to me a couple of weeks ago, I checked it out on OverDrive. I wish I loved it as much as my student did, but for me, it was just okay. I think I'm getting too old for this level of angst-driven philosophy in my books. I want a good page-turner with decent action and a believable romance. Happily moving on to Holly Black's new faerie book now...
AUTHOR: Ava Dellaira
SERIES: none
PUBLISHER: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
ISBN: 9780374346676
PAGES: 336
SOURCE: public library OverDrive
GENRE: realistic fiction
SETTING: New York, present-day
SUMMARY: In the months following her older sister May's death, Laurel writes personal letters to famous people who died young. To work through her grief and the circumstances surrounding May's death, Laurel writes letters to Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse, Heath Ledger, and many others.

REVIEW: This book requires two reviews from me: one for teen readers, and one for myself. We'll start with the teen readers...

Teens who love books like The Fault in Our Stars and 13 Reasons Why will eat this one up. Fourteen(?)-year old Laurel and her parents are still very much grieving the death of Laurel's older sister May. Through her letters to famous people who died young, Laurel eventually starts to deal with what really happened to May and how, while she loves May and misses her terribly, she is also angry with May. The letters began as a school assignment, but Laurel uses the assignment as a sort-of diary/confessional/exploration of her own misplaced guilt over what happened to May.

Laurel at times sounds very young, but her innocence is believable once she finally tells the entire story. At other times, Laurel sounds like a poet, spinning out metaphors and philosophical ideals for pages at a time. Her friends are philosophical and metaphorical, too, which is why this book reminds me so much of The Fault in Our Stars. It's no surprise that Laurel aspires to be a poet one day.

Review #2...for those of us old enough to remember Popples, New Coke, and Trapper Keepers...

As an adult, I didn't love this so much. It's okay, I guess, but it is overlong and feels too angsty for my taste. Laurel's romance with Sky lacks chemistry and takes a backseat to more interesting relationships, particularly the blooming romance between best friends Hannah and Natalie.

Nothing really happens for at least the first half. The suspense over May's death just took way too long to reveal.

The teen alcohol use may be realistic, but I found it excessive. I've lived overseas for four years now, and it's quite different here from how it was when I lived in Texas. I don't doubt that some teens drink here, but high schoolers in general here seem a lot less wild than their USA peers. So, maybe this amount of teen drinking is realistic for American teens (I sure hope not), but does it really need to seem so normal for teen girls to regularly steal alcohol or use their sex appeal to get strangers to buy them alcohol? Laurel (who is only like 14!) and her friends drink like fishes. And how did they never get into any trouble with all their school-skipping? I would think they would get caught at some point.

All the parents in this book SUCK. All of them. They are self-absorbed (Laurel's mom), clueless (Laurel's dad), completely out-of-it (Sky's mom), frail (Hannah's grandparents), or abusive (Hannah's parental older brother). The only parent who might possibly be sort-of normal is Natalie's mom, but we can't really know for sure because she is barely mentioned at all. Laurel's Aunt Amy is okay, but she's also a bit ridiculous with her strict rules and blind following of a "Jesus Man." I just love it when all the teenagers--several of whom who get stoned and drink every day--are so much more mature and responsible than all of the adults.

I thought I'd really like the letters to the famous people, but it honestly felt a bit gimmicky. Most of the letters read like diary entries and only mentioned the famous person at the very beginning and end of the letter. I say "most" because I really did like one particular letter. In a letter to Kurt Cobain, Laurel angrily asks Kurt how he could kill himself and leave his daughter to grow up without him. It's a fair question that highlights the pain family members go through after a loved one commits suicide.

THEMES: suicide, first love, physical abuse, rape, grief, parental separation

THE BOTTOM LINE: Even though I didn't love it personally, I would still recommend it to teens who like emotional realistic fiction. I felt the alcohol use was excessive, but it would not keep me from recommending the book.

STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We don't currently have it, but I am not opposed to getting it at some point. We do have lots of similar books in our library right now, so it's not a priority purchase at this time.


  • Overall: 2/5
  • Creativity: 2/5
  • Characters: 1/5--flat characters that I didn't really care about
  • Engrossing: 1/5--only 336 pages, but that was waaayyyy toooo llooooonnnnngggg!
  • Writing: 2/5
  • Appeal to teens: 4/5
  • Appropriate length to tell the story: 1/5

  • Language: medium; sh*t and fu*k
  • Sexuality: medium-high--kissing (includes F/F without shirts), non-descript touching/rubbing, rape (no details given), a boy masturbates during class, several different high school girls spend the night with older boys. I say medium-high here because none of these sexual scenes are very descriptive.
  • Violence: mild-medium--evidence of physical abuse (bruises), rape
  • Drugs/Alcohol: high--smoking pot; teens drink hard liquor often, including alone, with friends, and at parties

This title also appears on my Teen Mental Health Booklist on Pinterest:

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